Golf reduces the risk of premature death by half, according to new research.
A study of nearly 6,000 people found those who played at least once a month were much more likely to be alive a decade later.
Scientists said the sport – famously described as ‘a good walk spoiled’ by American author Mark Twain – is ‘a hole in one’ for older adults’ health.
Lead author Professor Adnan Qureshi said golf can provide benefits such as stress reduction, and is easy to maintain regularly because it is not exhausting.
Professor Qureshi, a neurologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, said: ‘Our study is perhaps the first of its kind to evaluate the long-term health benefits of golf, particularly one of the most popular sports among older people in many countries.’
The findings were based on data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, a population-based observational survey in the US of risk factors for heart disease and stroke in over 65s.
Out of almost 5,900 participants with an average age of 72, 384 golfers. Two-thirds were women and the rest men.
The golfers reported playing once a month or more. They did not specify whether the golfers walked or rode in a golf cart.
Beginning in 1989 and continuing through 1999, the participants had extensive annual medical examinations, as well as clinic visits every six months.
When comparing mortality rates between golfers and non-golfers over a ten-year period, it was significantly lower in the former group.
Around one in seven (15 percent) died, compared to a quarter (25 percent) of those who never picked up a club.
At the end of the study, the participants were contacted by phone to determine any occurrences of heart attack and strokes.
During follow up, eight percent of the golfers had suffered strokes and almost 10 percent heart attacks, compared to 24.6% in non-golfers.
The researchers were unable to determine if playing golf had a direct impact on protecting against heart attack or stroke.
But Professor Qureshi said: ‘The US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans does not yet include golf in the list of recommended physical activities.
‘Therefore, we are hopeful our research findings could help to expand the options for adults to include golf.’
Golf is played by roughly 25million Americans. It is one of the most popular participation sports in the UK, with around two million people in England playing at least twice a month.
It can provide benefits such as stress reduction and is an exercise that is easy to keep up, explained Professor Qureshi.
Due to its social nature and controlled pace, people often maintain motivation and the ability to continue playing in older age – even after suffering a heart attack or stroke.
Professor Qureshi said: ‘While walking and low-intensity jogging may be comparable exercise, they lack the competitive excitement of golf.
‘Regular exercise, exposure to a less polluted environment and social interactions provided by golf are all positive for health.
‘Another positive is that older adults can continue to play golf, unlike other more strenuous sports such as football, boxing, and tennis.
‘Additional positive aspects are stress relief and relaxation, which golf appears better suited for than other sports.’
The preliminary research was presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.
The same researchers are currently performing additional analyses to identify what other health conditions may benefit from regularly playing golf, and if gender or race are factors.
In 2016 a study by scientists in Scotland, the home of golf, also found people who play live longer than those who do not.
They claimed the sport was likely to increase life expectancy, help chronic diseases and boost brainpower.
The University of Edinburgh team reviewed 5,000 studies into golf and found it had physical and mental health benefits for people of all ages.
They found the physical gains increased with age. Balance and muscle endurance in older people were improved by playing the sport and it was also likely to improve cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic health.
Golfing could also help those who suffered chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer, and stroke, as well as helping reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, and dementia, the researchers found.
The study found golfers typically burnt a minimum of 500 calories over 18 holes and those walking the course could cover four to eight miles.
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